Potential special election in House District 46 heats up

AddThis

Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, announced she plans to resign from her elected position in September after winning her November election in a landslide.

Dukes has cited lingering health concerns as her reason for stepping down, and her announcement came amid an investigation by the Travis County district attorney’s office into Dukes using taxpayer dollars for purposes outside the Legislature.

If the Austin Democrat follows through with her plans to step down from the seat she’s held since 1995, it will become vacant on Jan. 10, 2017, the first day the Texas 85th Legislative Session convenes. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott would have 20 days to call a special election to fill the seat.

So far, four Austinites have announced their plans to launch a campaign for the district seat, which covers parts of East and North Austin: Gabriel Nila, Sheryl Cole, Chito Vela and Adam Reposa.

Reposa, a criminal defense attorney, became the most recent contender to officially throw his hat into the ring in a Dec. 2 press release.

“I am excited by the opportunity to represent my neighbors in East Travis County as well as all like-minded people throughout Texas,” Reposa said in his press release. “Sadly, for many years District 46 has been neglected by the political establishment of the Texas Legislature.”

Nila, a Republican, placed second behind Dukes in the November election and told The Daily Texan in November he would run for the seat once it became vacant.

“We’re making sure the message stays the same so that people know this campaign is helping families, promoting unity and ensuring our community grows stronger,” Nila told the Texan.

On Nov. 7, the day before Election Day, former Austin City Council member Sheryl Cole told the Texan she was running for the seat once Dukes resigned.

“I do plan to run for the seat once there’s a [special] election called,” Cole said. “I would be very honored to represent the people.”

Vela, an attorney and former chairman of the Workers Defense Project, told the Texan that Donald Trump winning the presidency pushed his consideration toward a district run to a “definite yes.”

“[Trump’s] win illustrated the need for strong, progressive Democratic voices and to push back against the rhetoric and negativity we’re seeing from Trump,” Vela said.

More recently, Vela called for Dukes to resign immediately instead of waiting until 2017 to make sure the seat was filled sooner rather than later.

“If Rep. Dukes waits until January 10 to resign, families in East Austin, Manor and Pflugerville would go without any representation in the Texas House for most of the legislative session,” Vela said in a Nov. 30 press release. “By waiting so long to resign, Rep. Dukes is hurting her successor, her constituents, and all Texas Democrats.”

Responding to Vela on Twitter, Dukes said it was an “unpleasant campaign tactic” and added Vela was “uninformed” with “an incorrect assessment on the timeline.”

Vincent Harding and Kevin Ludlow are two additional people whose names have been floated for possibly running for the seat, but neither have formally announced plans to do so.

Ludlow, a longtime Austinite and small business owner, ran against Dukes as a Libertarian in both the 2014 and 2016 November elections and said he may run for the seat once a special election is called.

Harding, the current chairman of the Travis County Democratic Party, told the Texan he was “seriously considering” a run on Dec. 4.

“I am proud of the work I did as a private citizen during the last legislative session to advocate for issues that are important to all Texans, including HD 46 residents, and plan to continue that work whether I run or not,” Harding said in an email. “I am prayerfully considering my candidacy and discussing it with my wife.”

If Dukes resigns and Abbott announces a special election race, the seat may be filled in March or the months following. The Legislative session ends June 1 should no special session be called.